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AK47: The porn star turned artist who held Banksy to ransom

PUBLISHED: 16:20 07 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:43 07 November 2013

Andy Link (AK47)

Andy Link (AK47)

Archant

On the eve of his new exhibition, Andy Link tells Alex Bellotti why he famously stole 'The Drinker'

»He got a taste for subculture in the eighties, starring in self-penned cable porn films and moonlighting at illegal acid house raves. In 2005, his infamy reached news heights as he made national front pages for stealing the work of world-famous street artist Banksy.

Last week, Andy Link, more artfully known as AK47, sent me a bullet in the post to promote his new exhibition. At the very least, the man knows how to make an impression.

“It’s like that famous Andy Warhol quote,” he says. “An interviewer asked him what makes a great artist – his reply was ‘a great publicist’. The press is a medium that’s there to be used.”

AK47’s assault on the media is slightly more literal than most however. The founder of “terrorist art group” Art Kieda, Link is inspired by weapons like the notorious Soviet assault rifle he takes his moniker from.

His first UK commercial show, Bullets Straight from the Heart, similarly places weaponry at its core, with bullets either bursting through Perspex sheets or painted pink and blue to look more like “ornaments”.

“It’s called trench art, but seeing as I’m not as common, I call it ditch art – what with living near Shoreditch and all,” Link explains in his thick Yorkshire accent. “It’s about challenging people’s perceptions. The AK47 is a bringer of death, but then look at those who have been oppressed and used it for freedom. It’s liberated more people than the bow and arrow.”

While there is a identifiable methodology behind his work, Link is happy to admit the whole project is “a smoke screen for taking the piss”. Promoting his anarchic, mischievous ideas through social media, Art Kieda has support from thousands of “militia” including Bez from the Happy Mondays and, even more bizarrely, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.

Yet not everyone approves of Link’s chaotic exuberance. In 2004, his most famous stunt sparked “a sense of humour failure” from street-art superstar Banksy, when his statue The Drinker was taken from its Tottenham Court Road residency by Art Kieda in broad daylight. According to Link, the stunt merely arose as a form of payback.

“The whole thing only started because he wouldn’t sign my f**king print. I’d bought this work of his for about £70 in the days before he was even famous, but he said if I wanted it signed I should have bought a signed one.

“I mean everyone seems to think he’s this hero and he’s not. Tell me the difference between him and someone like Damien Hurst, there’s not much there.”

Annoyed

Amusingly, Link notes that the hijacking never actually caused anyone harm. In fact the press generated from The Drinker’s heist not only got Banksy his first front page, but most probably drove the value of the statue up exponentially.

In a twist that curiously questions the laws of artistic ownership, Link found himself devastated when a group he believes were hired by Banksy seized the piece back in a cloak and dagger operation.

“I’m annoyed because it’s mine by law. I reported it to Hackney police that I’d found a statue in the street, and they said that if no one claimed it in three months then it was mine. Of course I knew he’d never do that, he initially offered me five grand for it. But all I ever wanted was for him to sign the print.”

It’s a story full of comedic and artistic nuance, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Link is now setting up a kickstarter campaign to finance a feature film on how it unfolded. Having viewed the trailer for ‘Daylight Robbery’, it promises to be a glossily-produced punk riposte to Banksy’s own ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’, a treat for fans of either artist.

In an age when modern art is commonly viewed as too elitist, it would seem down to someone like AK47 to capture the imagination of the masses.

He’s mad, he’s controversial, he’s thought-provoking – what more ammunition could an artist ever need?

Bullets Straight from the Heart by AK47 is now open at the Maurice Einhardt Neu Gallery in Hackney until November 19.

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